Jacob the min

While reading and researching the Talmud Babli Megillah on the role of the reader in ancient Jewish worship, an unexpected name came up – Jacob the min, or in Hebrew, יעקב מינא (Talmud Mas. Megillah 23b)

Min or minim is a controversial word coined by leaders in the Jewish community about groups or persons that strained or threatened normative Jewish customs. Another word for minim in English may be heretics, but this may be too restrictive. The early Jewish Christians were the predominant target with this term.

He has been mentioned before in the Tosefta Chullin 2g, and a number of other Jewish writings where he is identified as being a faith-healer.

Tosefta Chullin 2g has been translated by Travis Hereford in his book, “Christianity in Talmud and Midrash” :

“The case of R. Eleazar ben Damah, whom a serpent bit. There came in Jacob, a man of Chephar Sama, to cure him in the name of Jeshua ben Pandira, but R. Ishmael did not allow it. He said, Thou art not permitted, Ben Damah. He said, I will bring thee a proof that he may heal me. But he had not finished bringing a proof when he died. R. Ishmael said, Happy art thou, Ben Damah, for thou hast departed in peace, and hast not broken through the ordinances of the wise ; for upon every one who breaks through the fence of the wise, punishment comes at last, as it is written [Eccl. x. 8]: Whoso breaketh a fence a serpent shall bite him.”

When I look at this quote more closely, the translation “in the name of Jeshua ben Pandira”, causes some difficulty. Pandira is a variation of the Latin last name given to Joseph’s father. This copy does not exist in the original Talmudic text supplied by the Judaic Classics Library (published by Davka). There must be a reason for this but it is not presently known. If one holds together other references of Jacob the min, and supposes that the problem text of Pandira is true, Jacob was a follower of Christ.

Also there is no Tos. Hullin 2:22-23 as Hereford identified. He must have been using another reference system, as it is Tosefta Chullin 2g or as some may call it 2.6 (Some write Chullin as Hullin).

Jacob lived, according to Travis Hereford around 130 AD (Page. 103), but Talmud Megillah 23b recorded him having a discussion with Rabbi Judah haNasi, who flourished around the early part of the 2nd century. So it is hard to peg Jacob the min’s actual date.

One can’t assume that this is the same person either, but the evidence tends to lean towards the same individual.

Jacob the min must have been an important contributor to Judaism during this time period.

It makes one wonder, if Jacob the min appears here, how many more undocumented places does he appear?

About the reading of the Law, the Rabbi’s included Jacob the min’s question.

“Jacob the Min asked R. Judah: What do the six of the Day of Atonement represent? — He replied: The six who stood at the right of Ezra and the six who stood at his left, as it says, And Ezra the scribe stood upon a pulpit of wood which they had made for the purpose…” (Megillah 23a Soncino Talmud)

This text does not directly comment on the public reading of the Law, but is part of a much larger discussion on it. It is amazing that Jacob the min, a Jewish believer, was allowed to be part of the discussion. It must have been a rite important to the Jewish Messianic community too.

A controversial 5th or so century manuscript with portions that may be dated earlier, The Apostolic Constitutions, reinforced the fact that the Church had continued the rite established by Ezra on the reading of Scripture:

“I Matthew, also known as Levi, at one time a tax collector, make a process to select a reader by laying hands upon him, praying to God, let him say, “O God, the everlasting, great in mercy and in compassion the one who hast made manifest the constitution of the world by Thy operations therein, and the number of elect you preserve, to him also now upon your servant being entrusted to read out your holy Scriptures to your people, and give to him your Holy Spirit, the prophetic Spirit. The One instructed Ezra your servant for the purpose to read aloud Your Laws to Your people…”

This is important to know as I get further into the role of the public reader and interpreter in the Church at Corinth.

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